Saturday, December 27, 2014

Almost home

Kent Potter was just 23 when he and three other photojournalists were killed as their helicopter was shot down over Laos (pictured at top before takeoff, with Potter standing at right). Now, 37 years later, the human remains that were discovered at the crash site are coming to a final resting spot, some 150 miles to the south of here.

Almost home

Last year, I wrote a story for the Daily News about the life and death of a legendary Philadelphia photojournalist, Kent Potter of UPI:

IF PHILADELPHIA photo legend Kent Potter were alive today, he'd be about 60. A former friend says he has no doubt that the photojournalist for United Press International, or UPI, would still be working in Iraq or some other global trouble spot.

"He wanted nothing to do with anything besides getting where the action was," recalled an old friend, Rusty Kennedy, a Philly-based photojournalist for the rival Associated Press. "He was an amazingly talented photographer, and he wanted to be in Vietnam, because that's where the action was."

 

That desire cost him his life -- Potter was just 23 when he and three other photojournalists were killed as their helicopter was shot down over Laos (pictured at top before takeoff, with Potter standing at right). Now, 37 years later, the human remains that were discovered at the crash site are coming to a final resting spot, some 150 miles to the south of here:

NEW YORK Ten years ago this week, a U.S. military search team digging into a steep mountainside in southern Laos found camera parts, film, broken watches and bits of wreckage - proof that a South Vietnamese helicopter had been shot down there in 1971, a UH-1 Huey that was carrying four top-rated war photographers and seven Vietnamese soldiers.

Only scant traces of human remains were found, but a sealed capsule containing those remains is finally about to be interred in a place of honor.

On Thursday, family members, diplomats from five countries and aging veterans of the wartime Saigon press corps will dedicate the capsule at the Newseum, a $439 million Washington, D.C., museum devoted to the history and practice of journalism.

The unusual burial comes a day before the formal dedication of the Newseum's Journalists Memorial gallery, a special showcase of sacrifice in the glass-walled edifice near the U.S. Capitol.

 

Nearly two generations after Potter died, it's become popular in some quarters to trash the heirs to Potter's legacy, people who risk everything to perform a job that's in service of democracy -- using the best tool for the truth that we've got, a camera. While I have mixed feelings overall about the $439 million Newseum (I'll save those for another day), I have nothing but praise for what it's doing to finally honor those who died exercising their right of free speech, including Philly's own Kent Potter.

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Will Bunch
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